In a chaotic debate defined by the president’s repeated interruptions and bitter insults, it was that exchange on the subject of right-wing and racially motivated violence that provoked the most widespread criticism from members of both parties.
Despite the uproar caused by his comments the prior evening, Trump again did not offer a clear answer on Wednesday when asked by a reporter whether he welcomed the support of white supremacists. “I want law and order to be a very important part — it’s a very important part of my campaign,” he responded.
Pressed further on whether he denounced white supremacists, Trump said he had “always denounced any form, any form, any form of any of that. You have to denounce it.” He then demanded that Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, “say something about antifa.”
The Proud Boys, self-described “Western chauvinists” who have clashed with protesters at political rallies and mass demonstrations, have embraced Trump’s invocation of their organization at the debate on Tuesday.
Although virtually all Democrats and even some Republican lawmakers have called on Trump to retract his remarks, the president’s closest allies continued to defend him on Wednesday.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Proud Boys as a hate group, and Trump’s Department of Homeland Security has determined that white supremacists pose the deadliest terror threat to the U.S.
But Trump has sought to blame antifa and left-wing radicals for the violence that has accompanied some of the nationwide protests in recent months against racial injustice and police brutally.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, however, has contradicted Trump’s claim that antifa is a terrorist organization, calling it “more of an ideology or a movement.” And contrary to Trump’s assertion, Biden has forcefully rebuked all episodes of violence in U.S. cities.